Is the atomic energy battery developed in China safe?

Last January 8 the company Beijing Betavolt New Energy Technology announced that it had successfully developed a drumssmall in size, powered by radioisotopes. This means that energy production does not occur through chemical reactions but by exploiting the energy released by the radioactive decay of an isotope, the nickel-63. According to the company, the project is well underway: completed testing phasethe technology could become ready to launch on the market.

This device is able to conserve charge for 50 approximately years: a battery of this type could, in principle, allow you to never have to recharge your smartphone. This battery is also capable of operating over a wide temperature range, between –60°C and 120°C. For now the Chinese company has only produced a prototype, from dimensions of 15x15x5 millimeters, that it can provide 100 microwatts of power at a voltage of 3 volts; the company’s stated goal is to achieve the power of 1 watt by the end of 2025 and reach mass production. If the project is carried forward, it would be the first nuclear battery in the world to be mass produced.

Let’s now clear up a possible misunderstanding: the battery works via atomic energy (or nuclear energy), but it has nothing to do with what happens in a nuclear power plant – or even worse in an atomic bomb – because no nuclear reactions occur inside it. Furthermore, unlike what happens in nuclear power plants, at the end of its life there is no radioactive waste left. So how does this battery work?

The Chinese company created this battery by placing a thin layer of nickel-63 (with a thickness of 2 thousandths of a millimeter) between two sheets of semiconductors. Nickel isotopes decay spontaneously – that is, their atomic nucleus splits – and their energy is converted by the semiconductor layers into electric current. This structure is modularthat is, batteries of different sizes and capacities can be made by connecting a certain number of these units together.

BETAVOLT nuclear battery

According to Betavolt, the atomic energy battery is “absolutely safe, does not emit radiation to the outside and is suitable for use in medical devices such as pacemakers and artificial hearts.” Furthermore, the decay of nickel-63 produces a stable isotope of copper, therefore there is no radioactive waste.

The company is also researching other isotopes, such as strontium-90, promethium-147 and deuterium (isotope of hydrogen with a neutron), to produce batteries with greater power and autonomy included between 2 and 30 years.